Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc

Poulenc, Francis, 1899-1963, French composer and pianist. He was one of Les Six, a group of French composers who subscribed to the aesthetic ideals of Erik Satie. The spontaneity and lyricism of Poulenc's style are best adapted to small forms—piano pieces such as Mouvements perpétuels (1918) and songs. Also outstanding are the ballet Les Biches (1924); Concert Champětre (1929), for harpsichord and orchestra; the Mass in G (1937), for chorus and organ; Litanies à la Vierge noire (1936), for women's choir and organ; the Intermezzo in A Flat Major (1944), for piano; and the Concerto in G Minor for organ, strings, and percussion (1938). His operas are Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1947) and Dialogues des Carmélites (1957).

Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (January 7, 1899January 30, 1963) was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music. Critic Claude Rostand, in a July 1950 Paris-Presse article, described Poulenc as "half bad boy, half monk" ("le moine et le voyou"), a tag that was to be attached to his name for the rest of his career.


Early life

Poulenc was born in Paris in 1899. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play and music formed a part of family life. He was a capable pianist and the keyboard dominated much of his early compositions. He also, throughout his career, borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Camille Saint-Saëns. Later in his life, the loss of some close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, led him to rediscover the Catholic faith and resulted in compositions of a more sombre, austere tone.


Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of young French composers (comprising himself along with Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre) who also had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau. He embraced the Dada movement's techniques, creating melodies that would have challenged what was considered appropriate for Parisian music halls.

He was already identified with this group before he undertook his first formal musical training, with Charles Koechlin in 1921.

Poulenc was a featured pianist in several recordings, including some of his own songs (with Pierre Bernac) (recorded in 1947) and the concerto for two pianos (recorded in May 1957). He supervised the 1961 world premiere recording of his Gloria, which was conducted by Georges Prêtre. His recordings were released by RCA Victor and EMI. Poulenc's Perpetual Motion Nr. 1 (1918) is used in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948).

Among Poulenc's last series of major works is a series of works for wind instruments and piano. He was particularly fond of woodwinds, and planned a set of sonatas for all of them, yet only lived to complete four: sonatas for flute, oboe, clarinet, and the Elégie for horn.

Poulenc died of heart failure in Paris in 1963.

Personal life

Some writers consider Poulenc one of the first openly gay composers. His first serious relationship was with painter Richard Chanlaire, to whom he dedicated his Concert champêtre: "You have changed my life, you are the sunshine of my thirty years, a reason for living and working." He also once said, "You know that I am as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screamings, as I am in my Parisian sexuality. However, Poulenc's life was also one of inner struggle. Having been born and raised a Roman Catholic, he struggled between coming to terms with his unorthodox sexual appetites and maintaining his religious convictions.

Poulenc also had a number of relationships with women. He fathered a daughter, Marie-Ange, although he never formally admitted that he was indeed her father . He was also a very close friend of the singer Pierre Bernac, for whom he wrote many songs; some sources have hinted that this long friendship had sexual undertones. The now-published correspondence between the two men, however, strongly suggests that this was not the case.

Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of friends. First came the death of the young woman he had hoped to marry, Raymonde Linossier. While Poulenc admitted to having no sexual interest in Linossier, they had been lifelong friends. Then, in 1923 he was "unable to do anything" for two days after the death from typhoid fever of his twenty-year-old friend, the novelist Raymond Radiguet. However, two weeks later he had moved on, joking to Sergei Diaghilev at the rehearsals he was unable to leave, about helping a dancer "warm up". In 1936, Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of another composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, who was decapitated in an automobile accident in Hungary. This led him to his first visit to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour. Here, before the statue of the Madonna with a young child on her lap, Poulenc experienced a life-changing transformation. Thereafter his work took on more religious themes, beginning with the Litanies à la vierge noire (1936). In 1949, Poulenc experienced the death of another friend, the artist Christian Bérard, for whom he composed his Stabat Mater (1950). Other sacred works from this period include the Mass in G (1937), Gloria (1959), and Sept répons des ténèbres (1961–2).




  • Sinfonietta (1947)


  • Concert Champêtre, for harpsichord and orchestra, (1927–1928)
  • Aubade, a "Concerto Choréographique" for piano and 18 instruments (1930)
  • Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor (1932)
  • Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor (1938)
  • Piano Concerto (1949)

Vocal/Choral Orchestral

  • Litanies à la vierge noire (SSA, org) (1936), orchestrated (1947)
  • Stabat Mater (Soprano solo, SATB divisi, orchestra )(1950)
  • Gloria (Soprano solo, SATB divisi, orchestra) (1959)
  • Sept répons des ténèbres (Child Soprano, Men's Chorus, Children's Chorus, orchestra (1961-2)
  • La Dame de Monte-Carlo (Soprano solo, orchestra) (1961)


  • Sonata for 2 Clarinets, op. 7 (1918/1945)
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 12 (1918)
  • Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon, op. 32 (1922/1945)
  • Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone, op. 33 (1922/1945)
  • Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano, op. 43 (1926)
  • Villanelle for Pipe (pipeau) and Piano, op. 74 (1934)
  • Suite française for 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Percussion and Harpsichord, op. 80 (1935)
  • Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet, op. 100 (1932–9)
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 119 (1942–3/1949)
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano. op. 143 (1940–48)
  • Trois mouvements perpétuels for 9 Instruments, op. 14 (1946)
  • Flute Sonata, op. 164 (1956–7)
  • Elégie for Horn and Piano, op. 168 (1957) In memory of Dennis Brain
  • Sarabande for Guitar, op. 179 (1960)
  • Clarinet Sonata, op. 184 (1962)
  • Oboe Sonata, op. 185 (1962)


  • Piano Suite (1920)
  • Sonata for Piano Duet (1918)
  • Promenades (1921)
  • 8 Nocturnes (1929)
  • Three Novelettes (1927-1928, 1959)
  • Trois Pieces: Pastorale-Hymne-Toccata

Works for two pianos

  • Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in D minor, FP 61
  • Sonata for 2 pianos, FP 156
  • Sonata for piano, 4 hands, FP 8
  • Capriccio for 2 pianos (after Le bal Masqué), FP 155
  • L'embarquement pour Cythère, valse-musette for 2 pianos (from film, Le voyage en Amérique), FP 150
  • Élégie (en accords alternés), for 2 pianos, FP 175


  • Chanson à boire (TTBB) (1922)
  • Sept chansons (SATB) (1936)
  • Litanies à la vierge noire (SSA, org) (1936), orchestrated (1947)
  • Petites voix (SSA) (1936)
  • Mass in G (SATB) (1937)
  • Sécheresses (chorus, orchestra) (1937)
  • Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (SATB): "Vinea mea electa", (1938); "Tenebrae factae sunt", (1938); "Tristis est anima mea", (1938); "Timor et tremor", (1939)
  • Exultate Deo (SATB) (1941)
  • Salve regina (SATB) (1941)
  • Figure humaine (12 voices) (1943)
  • Un soir de neige (6 voices) (1944)
  • Chansons françaises: "Margoton va t'a l'iau", (SATB)(1945); "La belle se sied au pied de la tour" (SATBarB) (1945); "Pilons l'orge" (SATBarB) (1945); "Clic, clac, dansez sabots" (TBB) (1945); "C'est la petit' fill' du prince" (SATBarB) (1946); "La belle si nous étions" (TBB) (1946); "Ah! Mon beau laboureur" (SATB) (1945); "Les tisserands" (SATBarB) (1946)
  • Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise (Men's chorus) (1948)
  • Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël (Mixed chorus): "O magnum mysterium" (1952); "Quem vidistis pastores?" (1951); "Videntes stellam" (1951); "Hodie Christus natus est" (1952)
  • Ave verum corpus (SMezA) (1952)
  • Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue (Men's Chorus): "O Jésu perpetua lux" (1957); "O proles hispaniae" (1958); "Laus regi plena gaudio" (1959); "Si quaeris" (1959)


  • Le Portrait (poem by Colette) (1937)
  • La Grenouillère (poem by Apollinaire) (1938)
  • Deux poèmes d'Apollinaire (poems by Apollinaire: I: "Dans le jardin d'Anna", II: "Allons plus vite") (1939)
  • Bleuet (poem by Apollinaire) (1939)
  • Banalités (poems by Apollinaire: I: "Chanson d'Orkenise", II: "Hôtel", III: "Fagnes de Wallonie", IV: "Voyage à Paris", V: "Sanglots") (1940)
  • The Story of Babar the Elephant for Piano and Narrator (1940 – orchestrated by Jean Françaix 1945)
  • Deux poèmes d'Apollinaire (poems by Apollinaire: I: "Montparnasse", II: "Hyde Park") (1941-1945))
  • Deux poèmes d'Apollinaire (poems by Apollinaire: I: "Le pont", II: "Un poème") (1946)
  • Paul et Virginie (poem by Raymond Radiguet) (1946)
  • Rosemonde (poem by Apollinaire) (1954)
  • Parisiana (poems by Max Jacob: I: "Jouer du Bugle", II: "Vous n'écrivez plus?") (1954)
  • Dernier Poème (poem by Robert Desnos) (1956)
  • La courte Paille (poems by Maurice Carême, I: "Le sommeil", II: "Quelle aventure!", III: "La Reine de Coeur", IV: "Ba, be, bi, bo, bu", V: "Les anges musiciens", VI: "Le Carafon", VII: "Lune d'Avril") (1960)

See also


External links

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